Project Zambia: Making the light burn brighter

French literary critic Anatole France once said that “to accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.” For St. John’s student Stacey Serrette, she would soon realize that faith would impact her future and the lives of those around her.

Serrette, a senior sports management major at St. John’s, was provided an opportunity to do something extraordinary with her life in the summer of 2005. She was offered an opportunity by her church pastor to travel to Zambia, Africa on a mission trip to build orphanages for children who lost their parents and family members to disease.

“I’ve been doing community service since I was in high school,” Serrette said. “We had a requirement to do about 40 hours per semester and I enjoyed it so much that I continued to do it. My parents always said ‘help those who are less fortunate than you.'”

After the spring semester of 2005 drew to a close, Serrette had watched a presentation regarding the mission trips her church supported and participated in.

“I tell everyone it all started with a bag of coins,” she said. “I wanted to help in any way possible. I didn’t think going to Zambia was a possibility. I just simply collected money here [at St. John’s] just so my church had money to donate to Zambia. We made approximately $114 in change and I gave it to my pastor. Because of my donation, I was given an invitation to go to Zambia in July.”

The trip to Zambia, a 12-day expedition, was both an eye-opening experience and a cultural journey for Serrette. It gave her an idea, one which would stem into a project of campus-wide participation. Thus, Project Zambia was born.

“I wanted to do this because these people were those who in our eyes, we would say they have nothing. The houses they lived in were huts of clay,” Serrette said. “To see all of this you would think this, but not knowing this (their life) you would think they were millionaires. Their faith that they have, you would swear they had won the lottery.

“I thought to myself, ‘Why not create a community service project at St. John’s University where we send clothes. If we could get one piece of clothing from everybody, it would help.'”

Serrette also recognized the simplicity of life in Zambia and admitted her visit was a very humbling experience. “Before I left, my St. John’s computer was acting up and I said, ‘That’s it! I’m buying a new computer, I saved up all this money,’ she said. “After I went down there and I said to myself, ‘Here I am complaining about a computer where there are kids who didn’t have shoes.'”

Serrette’s goal was to create an effort to collect clothes and school supplies to send to Zambia. She also accepted dollar pledges and any other monetary donations.

As vice president of activities for the Student Programming Board and a senior resident assistant at DaSilva Hall, Serrette received a lot of help from her resident assistants.

Student Government Inc., also contributed by donating boxes to the project and paid for the shipping and handling of the materials collected, approximately 500 pounds total. Clothes that are not donated to Zambia will be given to the Salvation Army.

“This would have never been possible without the amazing support and publicity by the RAs, SPB, and Student Government,” Serrette said. “I want everyone that donated to know that they may never be able to fully see where there clothes have gone, but they should know that their donations have helped change the lives of many. This global project was one of love and close to my heart and I am proud of the outcome and the great participation.”

Serrette, both a philanthropist and a unique individual, gives others the hope that impossibilities can be achieved with the right amount of conviction.